Probate is the legal process by which a person’s estate is administered and distributed upon their death. The purpose of the probate process is to distribute the decedent’s property and to make sure all debts and taxes are paid.
Probate is generally a straightforward process. The personal representative of the estate, also known as the executor or independent administrator of the will, gathers information about the estate’s assets, liabilities, and legal obligations. Once the estate’s creditors are satisfied, the remaining assets are distributed to the legal beneficiaries of the estate, either as designated by a will or, if the decedent did not have a will or trust, to the legal heirs according to the rules of intestate succession.
An estate is generally left open for at least six months — the Illinois Probate Act requires that the estate’s representative publish notice of the decedent’s death and allow for six months for creditors to make claims.
Once the estate has been administered, the probate proceeding is closed. However, it is possible to reopen a probate proceeding that has been closed in Illinois in specific circumstances.
Interested in learning more? Let’s explore the ins and outs of reopening a closed probate estate in Illinois in more depth:
When Might an Illinois Probate Estate Be Reopened?
Although most probate proceedings are left open for between six months and fourteen months , it is, from time to time, necessary to reopen the proceeding “to permit the administration of a newly discovered asset or of an unsettled portion of the estate on the petition of any interested person.”
Reopening Probate To Distribute A Newly Discovered Asset
The most common reason to reopen a closed probate estate is the discovery of a previously unknown asset owned by the decedent that was not administered as part of the initial probate proceeding. If the newly discovered asset is titled solely in the decedent’s name and has no designated beneficiary, it must be passed through probate administration.
Any property that is discovered after probate has closed but is jointly owned or has a designated payable-on-death beneficiary can be distributed without reopening the probate estate.
These newly discovered assets can include property or vehicles, but more commonly tend to take the form of investment accounts, bank accounts, retirement funds, securities, personal property, or ownership interests in a business.
Reopening Probate To Adjudicate The Claims Of A Creditor
Closed probate estates may also need to be reopened if a previously undiscovered creditor makes a claim against the estate. However, before reopening probate, the heirs should confirm that the debt is valid and the claim is timely filed.
Reopening Probate When A New Heir Appears
The discovery of a previously unknown heir might provide grounds to reopen a probate estate if that heir would have been eligible to inherit the decedent’s assets under Illinois intestacy laws and the heir was legitimately overlooked. Before petitioning to reopen the probate estate, it is critical to confirm that the new heir does, in fact, have a viable claim and was not notified of the original proceeding. If a potential heir was given proper notice of the probate proceedings but failed to respond, the heir’s claim will be rejected.
Discovery Of A New Will
In rare circumstances, heirs may petition the court to reopen the probate proceeding because a new will has been discovered. To reopen the proceeding, the heirs must prove that the will is valid, enforceable, and was executed more recently than the originally administered will. The new will can be contested under the same rules that apply to the contest of any will.
How Is A Closed Probate Reopened?
According to the Illinois Probate Code, “any interested person” can petition the Probate Court to reopen the proceeding. The interested person must file a petition with the relevant Probate Court providing the grounds to reopen the proceeding, along with any supporting documentation.
The petition to reopen the probate estate of the decedent must be filed under the prior case number, and should clearly articulate the basis for the request and attach any relevant documents, including the original petition, the Order Appointing Representative, the Order Declaring Heirship, any relevant Letters of Office, and documents related to the newly discovered asset, creditor, or heir. The petitioner must also furnish a new bond based on the value of the newly discovered asset or the unsettled portion of the estate and limited to the administration thereof.
If the interested party who petitions to reopen the estate is someone other than the original representative, then the interested party must notify the original representative of the estate.
Because the Probate Courts are busy and generally reluctant to grant such petitions, the attached supporting documents should be as complete and thorough as possible. Assuming that the court approves the petition, the representative will notify interested parties and the newly discovered asset or claim will be adjudicated in a similar manner to the original probate proceeding. Once the contested or newly discovered matters are fully settled, the estate can be closed again.
Broadly speaking, there is no time limit on the reopening of a closed probate proceeding. According to the Probate Act, a closed estate can be reopened at any time after it has been closed. There are also no limitations on how many times a closed estate can be reopened. Although such reopenings are exceedingly rare, a complex estate may be reopened multiple times to deal with new assets or claims.
The Importance of Planning Ahead for Probate
There are many steps you can take to make difficult life transitions easier for the people who matter most to you. Getting a handle on your property and assets and preparing for probate are important steps you can take now — with enormous benefits to offer your loved ones down the line.
Planning ahead can help keep peace within your family, minimizing the risk for strife and arguments. At the same time, you can help secure your family’s future, saving them time, money, and stress when it comes to the complex legal process of probate.
Whether you are ready to take some steps to safeguard your assets, or are dealing with the legal aftermath of losing someone close to you, an experienced probate attorney is an important partner to have on your side.
That’s where our team would be happy to step in and help. At The Law Offices of J. Jeltes, LTD., our team of compassionate and knowledgeable legal advocates know what it takes to guide you through some of life’s most challenging family transitions.
Our legal professionals are driven, attentive, and dedicated to achieving the best result possible. Every situation is unique and before hiring our firm, our attorneys will provide you with a comprehensive one-on-one consultation to discuss your legal concerns and goals.
Looking to the future? We can help you understand what goes into the estate planning process, evaluate your assets, and prepare all necessary documents, including basic wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and advanced directives.
Facing the probate process? We understand that settling one’s financial matters after a death, with both family members and creditors, can be daunting. The Law Offices of J. Jeltes, Ltd. can help you navigate challenges that may arise during probate administration, from minor and disabled heirs and legatees to dealing with creditors or unfunded trusts. Our attorneys have experience with both contested and uncontested estates, asset division, and probate administration.
Have any more questions? Ready to get in touch? Don’t hesitate to contact us whenever you’d like to begin the conversation.